One year ago, the March snow saw the cancellation of the European Commission in Ireland’s International Women’s Day event.
On Friday, the event took place in Europe House with rural entrepreneurs Siobhan Lawless, CEO of the Foods of Athenry, and Norma Dineen, CEO of Bó Rua farm, speaking of their entrepreneurial journeys, joined by first vice-president of the EU Parliament Mairead McGuiness and European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan, chaired by Mairead Lavery.
Norma Dineen, Bó Rua
Norma Dineen, an engineer by trade, completed her Green Cert last year and has come through the Acorns programme which supports early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland.
A husband-and-wife team, Norma acknowledged the achievements of her husband Tom, a dairy farmer who has won multiple milk quality awards.
Taking the entrepreneurial plunge started when she received a bursary from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to study speciality food production in UCC. Using the Local Enterprise Office and nearby Teagasc Moorepark to bridge the knowledge gap, she undertook farmhouse cheese production training.
Testing the market through the SuperValu Food Academy programme gave them confidence but Leader funding made their dream of producing the product on farm a reality with a custom dairy constructed, ensuring products will be back on shelf next month.
Siobhan Lawless, Foods of Athenry
Siobhan Lawless converted their milking parlour into a bakery when the farm failed to deliver an income. They sold a field to pay for their endeavour and she recalled how her husband almost cried as the cows were loaded on to the truck, but within days, the new business became the priority and has grown ever since.
She believes that women are hard on themselves.
“They have such tenacity and determination but to some degree women set their standards too high in terms of their parameters for success. We need to acknowledge the successes and the wins”, the Galway woman said.
The resurgence of women
Mairead McGuiness, in acknowledging a resurgence in women contributing to farm diversification, said: “We need to look at what stops women making this contribution to the sustainability of farms. What does encourage women is getting into networks such as the Acorns programme. I am conscious of gender balance and I implore women not to say ‘sure it doesn’t matter, they don’t see me’, it does matter as women have to be seen to be heard”.
The role of the EU in sustaining farms and generational renewal was the message from European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan.
He said that young people are not going to get involved in a farming business, with all the risks, unless there is a work-life balance and new technologies must be harnessed to ensure the future of agriculture. The Commissioner was unequivocal that “young people will get preferential treatment in CAP post-2021”.
He called on local enterprise offices to have a dialogue between themselves to promote networking so that people can learn from each other and called on organisations such as the Acorns to access networks such as the European Investment partnership (EIP).
The Commissioner highlighted how critical it is for the consumer that women are involved in agribusiness as women are able to recognise the products, labelling and nutrition as well as trends in consumer behaviour.
Commissioner Hogan closed his speech calling on the ministers for Agriculture or Rural Development to insist that some finance is put behind specific programmes to support rural woman as there is an untapped provision within the current 2014-2020 programme for member states to assign finance for this purpose.